Dear Tea Lovers,
Welcome back to our Winter’s Tea in Paris!
We left off just before what is traditionally the scone course. Wanting to continue with our French flair, we decided to bake up Baby Brioche Buns instead of scones. We served them with fig jam, to remind people of the South of France and clotted cream, because it is delicious! We are simply helpless against the draw of clotted cream – it is one of our favourite indulgences! However, in Canada, our supplies are very limited. If anyone out there knows of good brand, please let us know!
Here is the recipe, adapted from Susannah Blake’s “Afternoon Tea”:
2 1/3 cups white bread flour, 1 T granulated sugar, ½ tspn salt, 1 tspn easy-blend dry yeast, 3 eggs, 1/3 cup milk, 5 T butter melted and cooled, 5 sugar cubes, vegetable oil for greasing
Sift the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into large bowl and make a well in the centre of the mixture. Beat the eggs and milk together in another bowl, reserving 1 T of the mixture in a separate bowl. Stir the butter into the remaining liquid then pour into the flour mixture and bring together to make a soft dough using a fork. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for 5-10 mins, working in a little more flour until the surface becomes smooth and dry. Put the dough in a lightly greased bowl, grease the top of the dough with oil, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour until doubled in size.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and kneed until firm and elastic. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and roll into balls. Line muffin tins with paper liners, and drop one ball in each. Cover with plastic wrap, let rise in a warm place for 20-30 mins until almost doubled in size.
Gently crush the sugar cubes to make course sugar crystals. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg/milk mixture, sprinkle with the sugar crystals, and bake in a pre-heated oven at 400 F, for about 12-15 mins until golden. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, and serve warm.
Now we come to the dessert course. You may have gleaned from the last sentence of Part 1 of a Winter’s Tea is Paris, that we experienced some difficultly with the French Macarons – thirty six eggs later on the day before the party, and “difficult” was an understatement. But let me start at the beginning.
Like the rest of the menu, we wanted to treat our guests to specifically French food, and not only that, but we wanted to try some new recipes for ourselves. Born out of these two thoughts was our dessert menu: French Macarons, palmiers, chocolate dipped strawberries, and Croquembouche. Note to self: even though we consider ourselves experienced bakers, attempting this new French cuisine the day before the party was brave (or, foolish) indeed.
First, I will begin with my new nemesis: French Macrons. These little delights seem to be taking a run at the cupcake’s popularity. And why not? They are adorable, colourful and can be flavoured with almost anything! We first tried them at our local farmer’s market last summer and immediately fell in love. Well, armed with a new-found macaron recipe book, we decided that this would be one of our show-stopping desserts. Ignorance is bliss! The day went something like this:
10am – batch 1 of 6 planned (lemon), we must have deflated the egg, because it didn’t set up and ran all over the sheet. Still tasted nice. Looked hideous.
11am – batch 1 in the garbage. Batch 2 (raspberry) in the oven. Not running. Good sign. Cracked as soon as we took them off the sheet.
Noon – batch 2 in pile on rack. Batch 3 (lemon again) in the oven. Getting worried. Also getting a sugar high from all the taste-tasting. These more or less came off the sheet, but without the quintessential “feet.”
1pm – Batch 4 in the oven (pistachio). Came out kind of dry.
2pm – Batch 5 (pistachio again) in the oven. Have decided to give up on remaining 3 flavours.
3pm – moving onto Croquembouche before nervous breakdown sets in. Anyone have a fool-proof Macaron recipe?
Now, Croquembouche was to be our other show-stopping dessert. It is the traditional wedding cake of France, and we had seen both Julia Child and Martha Stewart make absolutely spectacular specimens on TV. What could go wrong?
4pm – mixing up the “pate au choux” according to Martha Stewart’s 5 egg recipe. Apparently 5 eggs is far too many. It ran all over the place.
5 pm – mixing up second batch of pate au choux. It’s working. Thank goodness.
6pm – Trying not burn fingers on carmelized sugar, while piling the pastry. Pile is lopsided.
7pm – masking lopsided pile with spun sugar. Can’t cover with plastic wrap, for fear of breaking sugar. Hoping it survives the night.
8pm – headed to grocery store to buy chocolate dipped strawberries and palmiers.
So, ladies and gentlemen, sometimes things just don’t work out as you planned, and you just have to adapt! We had no time for our other desserts, and until this moment, no guest at our party knew of our troubles. The show must go on!
The next morning, we assembled our French Macrons, with whipped cream and raspberry jelly in the raspberry ones, lemon curd in the lemon, and vanilla buttercream in the pistachio – they didn’t look half bad!
Then, we went to check on our Croquembouche…
The spun sugar had evaporated and the pate au choux was hard as a rock! Would our suffering never end?? While we secretly cursed French desserts, we made an entirely new Croquembouche, which actually looked better than the first one. And with minutes until our guest’s arrival, we placed it on the table.
We must mention that we served a cheese tray after the dessert course, but after all of that running around, we forgot to take a picture. We chose 5 cheeses from France, some hard, some soft, some strong, some mild, and adorned the tray with grapes, figs and crackers.
This is the fun of entertaining – enjoy the process! Taste the cooking, laugh at the failures and enjoy your guests! It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be fun.
~ A Leaf and a Bud (whew!)